Manifested Hope: Mother Mas and Her Global Community
“Mas is me and I is mas”- Tony Hall
I approached this paper as an artist write up of the experiences, processes, motivations and sources that led to the Mother Mas creation. As a result of cultural performance, immersion and social activism influences, Mother Mas is able to critique, encourage and teach her global community through vocal and play performance. The premise of this paper is “Mas is me and I is mas” in which questions of community, performance and emancipation are undoubtedly formed. As part of the creation of Mother Mas these questions needed to be researched, experienced and learned. Through analysis of some art texts and concepts of installation, memory work and modes of art circulation Mother Mas was built along fundamental lines in order to aid her in strengthening her global community and its consciousness. Alongside text references a major resource component of my search is my personal experience and relations I have built within my own cultural space, allowing the Caribbean context to inspire my work fully.
The themes of the Mother Mas project are a culmination of my mas, artistic experiences, artistic and social discourse and found art of Trinidad. My Carnival experience in February 2009 and Temple of Hip Hop involvement primarily motivated my Mother Mas character formation. In conjunction with the Carnival experience, I have studied festival arts as cultural performance, circulating the birth of Carnival and its notions of emancipation as critiqued by my professor, Tony Hall, the author of “Jean and Dinah”.
Mother Mas was created from my experiential learning in playing Jouvay mas, Carnival Tuesday as well as participating in a plethora of other Carnival activities. Furthermore, the understanding of my participatory position in a tradition that grants me emancipation of identity, creativity and behavior has contributed to forming Mother Mas’ role and purpose. The concepts and readings I have been greatly inspired by in terms of structuring this project have been Derek Walcott’s ‘broken vase’, V.S. Naipaul’s “Middle Passage”, Tony Hall’s “Jean and Dinah”, Annie Paul’s “The Repeating AlterNATIVE”, Boris Groys’ “Politics of Installation”, David Scott’s “Introduction: On the Archaeologies of Black Memory”, Krista Thompson, Cornel West and Gerardo Mosquera. My musical inspirations for the project include conscious hip hop group Blue Scholars, Immortal Technique, Sam Cooke, Deitrick Haddon, Billie Holiday, Anthony Hamilton and various other gospel and conscious artists.
Secondly my theme of a mas celebration is indeed social commentary and discourse through the vocal art form. Violence has been growing across a global scale; particularly in my neighborhood of Curepe some community aspects are shifting as people try to take more safety precautions. This trend is not significant only to Trinidad or the islands, and in turn Mother Mas sings about her pains and the social woes that plague her global community; her vocal song cry is an outcry for hope. Mother Mas has a place amongst the turmoil and violence of any nation; she is the hope potential for change. In mas, she represents emancipation from these social issues, allowing a space for discourse as well as critique. Ideally, Carnival mas characters are always performing and engaging hence why I felt it was appropriate to incorporate vocal performance rather than solely implementing still life paintings or scenery sketches as final exhibition of my experience and research.
In the initial planning stages of this Mother Mas project I planned on painting a series of canvas pieces, each depicting a different social issue in Trinidad. One canvas piece would depict the issue of teen pregnancy; another would represent violence and so forth. It was not until I read Tony Hall’s play, “Jean and Dinah” that I began to strongly reconsider my performance planning. Through Hall’s text, my understanding of mas playing as performance, rebirth and emancipation began to shape Mother Mas and her message. The plot includes two female best friends Jean and Dinah and on the morning of Carnival Monday, Jean tries to unsuccessfully convince a sick, bedridden Dinah to play mas. Here is the excerpt that encouraged me to break out of the common art exhibition approach I originally planned and bring Mother Mas to life through movement and performance. The text reads as follows; it is an argument between Jean and Dinah:
JEAN: “Today is our day. If we don’t play [mas] today, we might as well be dead.”
DINAH: “I played some of the best mas in this place. So you, nor nobody like you, can’t tell me about mas. Mas is me and I is mas. And I am telling you that I am staying in my pissing bed, here today.”
Dinah states that “Mas is me and I is mas” which is a culmination of Mother Mas for me. No one can define mas for Dinah because she has made it her own; she has always connected with mas tradition for a lifelong while. Mas is an invocation, an awakening of new spirits and tapping into an inner self yet to be found. For some, mas is a tool to reconnect with an inner self that has always existed. This is the definition I apply to Mother Mas. Following my Temple of Hip Hop experience I have witnessed how mas has pushed me to an even further conscious understanding of myself as an activist, singer, artist and poet. Mother Mas allows me to try new art forms such as spoken word, an art form I have always been interested in but have never attempted to perform. For this Mother Mas allows me to tap into a deeper part of my creativity and will to take on such a challenge.
Mas, in the context of Jean and Dinah is used as an eliminator of problems, a temporary medicine to ease their life’s pains and heartaches. On the contrary my Mother Mas is the truth teller of violence, poverty, and inequality; Mother Mas is the reminder of issues though her mission is to give hope to a global community. Mother Mas signifies ‘memory-work’ and ‘freeing up’ from societal issues through consciousness. Mother Mas, unlike Jean and Dinah uses mas as a platform to display and express her societal sermon, not to mask herself behind it.
The third element to the creation of Mother Mas is found art. This aspect was headed by Thea Button, my project partner. Thea’s interest in understanding space and our positions as island visiting artists encouraged her to find and merge remnants, artifacts, trash and any movable objects that reflect geographical community and Trinidadian identity. The found pieces represent a momentary piece; an art piece built depending on what could be found in specific moments. With the objects Thea found, combining the ugly, unsanitary and uncensored parts of Trinidad with a Mother mas character representing hope, change and protection of Trinidad initially appear to be extremes. Thea was determined to make a found art piece created from people’s trash, thus formulating beauty from rubble but interestingly this signifies Mother Mas’ beautiful hope for the world regarding the stains of violence, corruption and poverty. Furthermore I as the Mother Mas character will wear Thea’s found art creation as a costume during the final performance.